There are multiple factors that make up a high quality cigar? The overarching issues are pretty basic: great tobacco and great construction define a great cigar. It the source tobacco is not great and the construction is lousy you are not going to have an enjoyable experience.
You are looking for a smooth burning rich tasting cigar and lets be totally honest, you can and should expect some flavor variances when you sample cigars. You will find band consistency across a line of cigars; but you are dealing with a hand made product that has many factors that can impact the taste, including how you store your cigar.
So, don’t make the purchase decision to order a box or two of cigars until you have tested more than one from the same manufacturer. Tastes are not going to vary dramatically from one to the other, but you can expect some variances in taste.
Why Construction is so Important
If the cigar manufacturer scrimps on the construction by under filling the cigar; really they are just scrimping on the amount of leaves to save money. Yes it is going to have an easy draw that many consider the hallmark of a great stick – but, this is a somewhat amateurish way to rat a cigar, it’s going to have a lot of air pockets, which product a fast burn and a hot smoke.
The reverse is also another sign of a poorly made cigar. If it’s over filled (stuffed with too much tobacco) it will not draw easily and this is a common complaint from many cigar smokers. A harder draw also produces a much lower volume of smoke, with a lest than satisfying taste and a frustrated smoker.
You want an even burn all the way through the smoke, an uneven burning cigar tells you it was not made well – the roll was lousy. The ash and should be relatively firm too. If it is falling off easily this can be a signal of a poorly made cigar.
Your cigar should look and feel good to the touch with some life to it. When you look at a box of cigars you should not see blemishes in the leaves and they should all look symmetrical in the box in size. Expect some color variances with the wrapper. Wrappers from the same tobacco crop can have different colors; but a cigar manufacturer that is focused on the details should ensure the wrappers have consistency in color.
You are looking for consistency in construction. If you experience wide variances in construction you are not buying a well made product and it’s time to move on.
No Cigar can Be Better than it’s Tobacco Source
Qualtiy tobacco or not defines a good quality cigar and you want and should expect consistency with the tobacco used to make your cigar. Weather, soil conditions, crop yields and storage impact the taste provided by tobacco. If the manufacturer did not buy sufficient tobacco volume then they will be forced to substitute other types of leaf which will impact the flavor of the cigar.
The tobacco blend is not consistent and the byproduct (and what you should be aware of) is a smoke that produces a harsher taste with a slightly musty taste at times. A cigar with an uneven mixture of leaf is going to produce a bad taste for you and it’s not going to smell good to others either.
In the end the expertise of your manufacture and the people that do the buying help to determine a great tobacco source – a good tobacco buyer travels the world, in many cases has decades of experience assessing and buying high quality tobacco. Many have their own network of farmers and growers and they are savvy enough to distinguish between good and bad tobacco and also know when to “stock up” on a particular harvest to ensure each cigar has the same source of tobacco leaf.
The Impact of Fermentation on a Great Cigar
A good cigar manufacturer is going to invest heavily in a crop of tobacco to ensure supply can match their expected manufacturing numbers. Tobacco storage and fermentation are the next step in the manufacturing process. The filler (actual guts of the cigar), wrapper and binder must be fermented prior to be rolled into a cigar, once the cigar is made fermentation stops.
“Fermentation” just means the tobacco is laid out in bulk, heat builds up during storage and the center develops the most heat and should not be allowed to exceed 110-130 degrees – too much heat ruins the tobacco. The manufacturer has to “turn” the bulk in most cases about 8-10 times which are called “sweats” in the business to ensure proper fermentation.
Sweating causes fermentation of the tobacco, producing emission of nitrogen compounds and other chemical compounds and it also reduces the nicotine content. After active fermentation the tobacco should be aged further in bales. And, a manufacturer that rushes the product to market by not fermenting and then storing product an inferior product.
Signs of a lack of proper fermentation include:
- A harshness or bitterness on the lips, tongue and mouth
- The cigar keeps going out on its own
- A feeling somehwat like heartburn in the chest cavity
- Another issue to be aware of, raw improperly fermented tobacco will never improve with age. It’s not like wine at all – bad improperly stored tobacco no amount of aging will help the product.
The Time of Day and Location of Where you Smoke a Cigar is Important
A cigar does taste differently depending on the time of day when you smoke. Just common sense. Your taste buds and senses are attuned differently. A stick smoked in the morning or after cognac late at night is going to taste differently; but the variance should only be subtle. If they are more dramatic then the culprit is going to be the product not the other minor factors.
Proper Storage is Always Critical to Preserving Your Cigar
Storing a cigar (as an example) at 70% relative humidity and 70 degrees means over time your stick is going to dry out over time. Get a humidor and you can pay $50 for a basic humidor up to thousands of dollars for a walk in humidor that’s going to knock your socks off.
You never want to store a cigar in high temperature or high humidity – shoot for a temperature in a humidor at room temperature with a humidity of 72 degrees. These levels ensure the three essential parts of your cigar are allowed to equalize in moisture content, with a very slow drying out process that should ensure they can be stored and enjoyed for years.
Maintain a balance between the temperature and humidity. As the temperature gets lower your humidity must be higher to keep the cigars fresh and the converse is also true; high temps and humidity can produce a white mold and ruin your cigars. Dry cigars do have less flavor, are a bit harsher, the cigar can begin to unravel and can flake off in your mouth as you smoke the cigar.
A Word About the Size of Your Cigar
Size is somewhat subjective. Some prefer a bigger stick and like the taste it imparts. As you would expect size does impact the flavor of a cigar. A difference in ring size and length imparts a somewhat different experience. A big ring gauge of 50-52 creates a huge volume of smoke versus a much smaller size of 28-42, which produces a much smaller volume of smoke.
The length of a stick also imparts a different taste. A huge 7 inch cigar is going to taste much different at the start of the smoke versus when it burns down to s shorter length – a bigger cigar is going to have a more robust taste as you are pushing smoke through much more tobacco over a finite period of time.Some manufacturers excel at making bigger sticks and not so much making a smaller cigar. But, like everything about cigars and to a certain extent life, quality is somewhat defined by your expectations, sophistication and some times budget.
In closing, a word about price. Cigars are like any product manufactured using raw materials – the type of tobacco used in your stick ultimately determines the value of your cigar. Yes, raw materials cost is an important variable when it comes to the value of a cigar. In some but not all cases a more expensive cigar is going to be made using a higher quality tobacco and yes this can define a better taste.
But not always. The storage, fermentation, your individual tastes and inherent expectations also define the perceived value in your smoke. And, like fine wine, a $250 bottle of wine to a purist may be far superior to a $45 bottle for a wine connoisseur, but let’s not mince words to the average consumer the perceived value will be minimal to the average consumer and the same holds true for cigars.